Who Am I?

Once upon a time, I struggled to give myself a title. Am I a guitarist, an audio editor, a sound designer, a composer? Or am I something else? My solution was to call myself every skill I had: I was a guitarist, sound designer, composer, and programmer. However, once I refined myself ready for a job, I landed on the title 'Technical Sound Designer'.

The title suited me well for a time-I landed my first job, did well in it, and climbed the ladder within the company-but this Christmas, with time to reflect, I realised it isn't accurate. What do you call an audio programmer with years of composition, sound design, and mixing experience?

What Is A Technical Sound Designer?

The term Technical Sound Designer can vary in meaning between companies and even people. However, how I've seen the term used describes a sound designer with extra technical skills. Perhaps they are very skilled at Wwise, can use Unreal's Blueprints, or can make interesting systems in Reaper or a modular environment. But the focus is still on sound. For example, Technical Sound Design tests focus on the sound portion more than the technical.

But does this term work for someone who can read and write C++, switch Wwise's outputs based on the operating system setting, or pick up the overflow work from programmers to fix some Steam networking bugs?

Again, while the term can be broad, it doesn't quite encapsulate someone that can act as an audio programmer too.

The Scale Of Technical Skills

Guy Somberg explained the scale of audio programming in his talk. He lists:

  • Technical Sound Designer
  • Audio Programmer
  • DSP Programmer

I would expand this to add sound designers:

  • Sound Designer
  • AAA Sound Designer
  • Technical Sound Designer
  • Audio Programmer
  • DSP Programmer

Scale Explained

Sound Designer: Creates sound effects but doesn't know Wwise or middleware. Maybe this is a student or a top movie sound designer. Their technical skills are probably wholly within their audio tools to create audio.

AAA Sound Designer: These sound designers can create sounds, add them to Wwise, and create events, ready for a Technical Sound Designer to add to the game.

Technical Sound Designer: Can create sound effects but also has the responsibility to implement their's and others' events in the game. If some Blueprint tweaks are required, they can do this.

Audio Programmer: The sound designer's best friend. They won't create sounds themselves, but they can add Wwise to your custom engine, create custom tools, fix bugs, and generally handle all game-side problems.

DSP Programmer: The DSP Programmer is likely to work with the low-level audio code, creating custom effects and the like.

The Sound Designer / Programmer Split

From the list above, there is a clear switch between a sound designer who can do technical tasks, and a programmer specialising in audio. Therefore, based on titles alone, there is no way to describe someone who is a sound designer and a programmer.

Does There Need To Be A Title?

Honestly, for AAA, probably not. For indie and being able to identify with a title, yes.

In AAA, if someone is a good audio programmer, it doesn't make sense to allocate their time to anything other than programming; doing both means more meetings, more tools, more tasks and more deadlines. Likewise, it wouldn't make sense to take an amazing sound designer off asset creation to compile the game for half a day.

In the indie space, there is a greater demand for generalists. Someone who is creating half the game's sound, but also implementing them and creating the audio systems, should probably have a title to reflect that. Technical Sound Designer doesn't quite reflect their contributions.

In Conclusion, Who Am I?

For work, I am a Technical Sound Designer. I don't think there is a good title for the skills I have. And for AAA I don't think there needs to be.

But I will be thinking of myself as a Sound Designer and Audio Programmer. My dissertation was purely programming, Fier:Auto saw me make sounds and code the rest of the game, and Ellen saw me gut Unity's audio in place of Wwise and create all of the sounds. Moreover, at work, I am writing or modifying code every day, while making sounds when needed.

Thank you for reading my existential crisis ;)